COVID-19 Update

19 April 2020

The Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA) today (19 April) provides a further update on the potential impacts of, and its response to, COVID-19,  including initial consideration for the TAB of the restrictions announced by Government of a move to Alert Level 3 and pending consultation of the draft racing calendar for May, June and July 2020.

TAB Performance

TAB’s digital platform, as well as Trackside Television continue to operate despite available content declining by approximately 80% when compared to content available prior to COVID-19. 

Thoroughbred, harness and greyhound race meetings in Australia (excluding Tasmania) are continuing and attracting a strong level of interest amongst TAB customers. The current strength and continuation of Australian racing is offsetting, to some extent, the lack of New Zealand racing content.

Overall the number of customers betting on Australian racing codes in the past week was 42,000 which is up 50% on the pre-COVID average, however, the level of total account bettors during the week is down 25% (to 19 April). The number of customers betting on sport was 8,000, a decrease of 75%, with approximately half of the week’s total sport turnover on Table Tennis, followed by Tennis and E-sport.

Managing costs

RITA continues to take steps to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on its business and its financial position by reducing operating and capital expenditure, reviewing various commercial arrangements and identifying efficiencies. 

Specific actions taken to date include: 

Pre Alert Level 4 (March 22)

  • A total recruitment freeze and a hold on RITA’s contract with its recruitment partner put in place
  • Oncourse presenters moved to present from studio
  • Use of non-essential contractors and casuals ceased 
  • Staff travel and payment of certain discretionary allowances stopped (including overtime)
  • All non-essential expenditure ceased
  • Presenter-led Trackside shows cancelled
  • Trackside radio moved to simulcast of Trackside Television

Post Alert Level 4 (March 23 to current)

  • More than 3,400 leave days approved for the period through to the end of 2020 following a request for all TAB employees to use entitled annual or alternative leave
  • All staff asked to consider taking voluntary unpaid leave or reduced hours
  • Reduction in remuneration for RITA Board, Executive Chair and Executive Management Team 
  • Trackside radio programming on AM and FM suspended on April 12
  • Trackside production scaled down with programming largely replaced with a live feed of Sky Australia coverage
  • Active negotiations with landlords, suppliers and other services to secure relief or amended conditions
  • Accessed the Government’s wage subsidy programme 
  • All non-essential capital expenditure on hold through to 30 June 2020 (at the earliest)

RITA is unable to reliably quantify the full financial impact of COVID-19 on its business but anticipates being in a position to provide some detail once the immediate future around the return of domestic racing becomes clearer over the coming weeks.

Resumption of racing

The RITA Dates Committee, who is charged with overseeing the Annual Racing Dates Calendar, is finalising a draft calendar for industry consultation covering the period of May, June and July. The calendar is intended to reflect the restrictions applicable to racing under Alert Levels 3 and 2 as they are currently understood, whilst also reflecting the requirement for suitable training and trialling prior to any race meetings.

It is anticipated that this draft calendar will be released following confirmation by the Government of the timeframe to move from Alert Level 4 to Level 3. The closing date for feedback is 28 April. The Committee intend to release a revised draft calendar for 2020/21 in mid-May.

The Government has announced some initial details about what business and working conditions might be like under Alert Level 3. RITA is coordinating some work from the three Codes in discussions with Government officials, recognising it needs to be able to demonstrate that the industry can operate safely, and play its part in minimising the transmission of COVID-19.

It is RITA’s expectation that all TAB branches and offices will remain shut under Alert Level 3, and it is working with the Government to confirm conditions for an appropriate and responsible resumption to racing, including training and trailing. Any resumption of racing will be supported with Return to Racing Rules and Protocols which will be issued by the relevant Code as soon as possible. 

RITA’s Executive Chair, Dean McKenzie said the landscape for the TAB’s operation had changed dramatically since the onset of COVID-19.

“It is clear COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the operation of the TAB, its people and everyone connected with the racing industry in New Zealand.

“The Board and management are actively working on all levers to reduce costs and drive efficiencies wherever possible. We are working closely with the Codes and racing industry organisations to ensure a collective response to this crisis. We are encouraged by the significant steps being taken to adapt to the current crisis across all industry bodies, with the Codes, Racing Integrity Unit, Judicial Control Authority and the Racing Laboratory reducing their operational expenditures.

“While significant steps continue to be taken to reduce expenditure, we know the TAB will continue to be challenged by a significant reduction in available content for some time and the Board are determined to maintain significant focus to ensure the sustainability of the business.”